My life is more than academic work…

Hopefully this website will meet the needs of academics trying to track down details on some of my research, family and friends interested in the latest photographs, and many others with whom I have a relationship through my varied roles. I’ll say a little about some of these roles on this page.


Name: Trevor Cairney OAM

Married to: Carmen

Nationality: Australian

Education: BA, M.Litt, PhD, GAICD

Unis: UNE, Newcastle

Occupation: Master (CEO)

Husband, father and grandfather

I grew up in a working class family on the outskirts of Newcastle (NSW, Australia).  My father (Henry) was a Scottish coal miner like his other 9 brothers and his father.  He married my mother Mary who was the daughter of shop keepers also of Scottish descent. After studying to be a teacher and meeting Carmen we were married in 1972. I began teaching the same year.  We have two daughters, Nicole and Louise are now both married.  Nicole and David have four wonderful children (Jacob, Rebecca, Elsie & Lydia).  Louise and Jonathan have two wonderful children (Samuel & Evelyne).  Family is a very important part of my life (my photos give more than a hint of this).

 My Christian faith is also a central part of who I am. I grew up in a non-Christian home and while I was a self-confessed atheist for my first 20+ years, I eventually made the decision to become a Christian at age 31 years after at least 10 years considering the claims of the Bible and assessing where I stood in relation to its teaching.  My faith is foundational to my worldview and has shaped all aspects of who I am.


A teacher and academic

My professional life has had two major strands – teaching and research and university senior management. My educational career began as a primary school teacher in New South Wales (Australia). I taught for 10 years in 3 different schools across all primary grades. For the last 3 years of my teaching career I was employed as the Teacher-in-Charge of a one teacher rural school where one year I had 31 children in my care across all grades (in the one room!). I also worked for 3 years as a Curriculum Consultant for the NSW Department of Education. Throughout this period I was enrolled undertaking degrees part-time or by external studies (an arts degree, a masters degree then a PhD).

 In 1981 I was offered my first job in a university teaching English Language and special education and I’ve been in Universities ever since conducting research, teaching and filling other posts. Since this first position I’ve held many posts in Universities including positions as Dean of Education and Pro Vice-chancellor (Research) at the University of Western Sydney (1989-2002).

I’m currently the Master of New College at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. My day-to-day role is being responsible for running this independent Christian residential college.  One of my greatest and most satisfying challenges was the development and building of a major postgraduate building to expand the work of New College.  This opened in January 2009 and was home for Carmen and me in 2009.  I now have responsibility for 565 residents who are all UNSW students drawn from 50+ nations. My residents are the most gifted amongst the gifted who have achieved in fields as diverse as sport, the arts and in public service. I also hold an Adjunct Professorship in the School of Education at UNSW which serves as my academic ‘home’ for ongoing research and scholarship and where I supervise postgraduate students.

A researcher

I have had two major research interests during my academic career. The first has been research in early language development with a particular interest in how children become literate, how families support this development, and how language and literacy is shaped within social settings and as an extension of relationships. This was a result of my first career as a teacher. My second area of interest is regional development and began with undergraduate and postgraduate studies in urban, regional and economic geography. This interest was rekindled in the 1990s when my senior management positions at the University of Western Sydney led me to embrace the University had in the regional development of Greater Western Sydney (GWS). During this time I continued my language research situated primarily in families. This was underpinned by an understanding that education is important and that it can have an impact on individual lives, families and communities.

As  I lead the University’s research development I saw how vital the university’s role was in regional engagement with business, industry, government and community groups. This period saw me develop strong relationships with business and industry groups and rekindle my interest in innovation. This led to a wide range of appointments to industry and business groups. One of these key appointments was as an elected director of the NSW State Chamber of Commerce. I was elected President of this organization in 2001 and continued in this role until 2010.  I am now director of the NSW Business Chamber and maintain an active involvement and interest in the business start-ups, industry policy and innovation.

Master of New College

In early 2002 I decided that it was time to move on from the University of Western Sydney and enter a third phase of my professional life by accepting the position of Master of New College at the University of NSW. What was attractive about New College was that it offered an opportunity in the one position (!) to draw on my experience as a university teacher, researcher, manager, my desire to support young people as they learn and grow, and my Christian faith. Thankfully, I was appointed and commenced in August 2002.

I now lead what I think is the finest residential college in Australia.  This role brings with it much diversity and challenge.  For example, I am actively working to build a centre for Christian education and scholarship (CASE); I’m working on the refurbishment of the College’s 1960s buildings; in 2003 I initiated the development of the new postgraduate college (the New College Village) that just opened and will be home for 315 mainly overseas students at UNSW. On top of all of this, I get to be involved leading a community of 565 wonderful young adults enrolled at UNSW in a variety of disciplines.

I continue to work as an academic and to explore and write about language and literacy development, children’s literature and what it means for educational institutions to engage with regions, communities and families. This website provides information and publications from my past and present and ideas for the future. I hope you find it of interest.

Business Roles

My involvement in business was a direct result of my regional development research and my role as Pro Vice-chancellor (Research) at the University of Western Sydney.  As I led research on the region of Western Sydney and engaged with business and business organisations I ended up on many boards and committees.  One of these was the Board of what was then the State Chamber of Commerce (NSW).  I was elected to the board as a director in 1997 and was eventually elected as President and Chair of the Board in 2001.  I have just finished my 8th year as President and Chair of what is now called the Sydney Business Chamber which is Australia’s oldest business organisation (established 1825) and the nation’s second oldest company.  This is the longest term by any president in 184 years. One of my greatest challenges has been to work with others to merge the Sydney Chamber of Commerce with Australian Business Ltd to form two new organizations, the Sydney Business Chamber and the NSW Business Chamber.